Being charged with an identity theft case can have severe consequences, including having a criminal record, paying a fine, and receiving possible jail time. If you’re under investigation for identity theft or have been charged with an identity theft case in southern California, you need to hire a Los Angeles identity theft defense attorney.

Identity theft can happen in several ways, and it can be devastating to your finances and credit score, not to mention the emotional toll it takes on you and your family.

If you’re dealing with a case of identity theft, the Law Offices of Mariya Melkonyan can offer guidance and fight for your rights.

What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft is defined as taking another person’s identifying information for use in a fraudulent or unlawful purpose under California Penal Code Section 530. California’s identity theft law prohibits all unauthorized use of personal information to obtain goods, credit, services, or medical information or care under someone else’s name.

Personal identifying information used in an identity theft case includes:

  • An individual’s name, address, or phone number
  • Data from a driver’s license, passport, social security card, or other government-issued ID
  • Account numbers for banks, credit cards, insurance companies, and other financial accounts
  • Tax returns and information from the IRS
  • Information from birth or death certificates

You do not have to act with criminal intent to be charged with a violation of this law. For example, if your friend authorizes you to use their credit card to make a purchase but later changes their mind and revokes authorization, you could face identity theft charges. While this action doesn’t harm others, it’s still considered an identity theft violation.

What is Aggravated Identity Theft?

Aggravated identity theft is a federal crime that occurs when someone knowingly uses, possesses, or transfers the identifying information of another person without permission and uses it during or in relation to a felony crime. In simple terms, this type of identity theft involves stealing identifying information and then committing a crime.

Defendants convicted of aggravated theft are sentenced to consecutive prison terms of at least two years for each violation. Prison sentences would increase to a minimum of five years if the defendant’s violation involved federal terrorism crimes. To be convicted, prosecutors must prove you both knowingly stole an identity and committed another crime.

What is Criminal Identity Theft Case?

All acts of identity theft are crimes in California, but criminal identity theft refers to one specific type of crime. Criminal identity theft happens when a person uses another’s name or identity information after being arrested or cited for a separate offense. If you get pulled over while driving and hand the law enforcement officer someone else’s driver’s license or lie about your name, you’re committing criminal identity theft.

Examples of Identity Theft

While many types of identity theft exist, some forms are more common than others. Each form of identity theft is a crime, but the consequences for each crime vary and depend on the type and severity of identity theft committed.

Medical identity theft:

Medical identity theft happens when someone uses your name or insurance information to access medical services or products. Medical identity theft can result in incorrect information about you appearing in your medical records, which can have life-threatening consequences.

Criminal identity theft:

An identity thief can physically pretend to be the victim they’ve stolen the identity from. They may have a fake ID card with the victim’s information but with their photo on it instead.

Synthetic identity theft:

Synthetic ID fraud is a crime that uses other people’s personal information to make new fake identities. These IDs feature Social Security numbers, birthdays, and home addresses belonging to someone else. McKinsey and Company report that synthetic identity theft is the fastest-growing financial fraud.

Identity cloning:

Identity cloning is when someone uses another person’s identity to help conceal their own identity. Using someone else’s Social Security number for work purposes is a common example of identity cloning.

Financial identity theft:

Identity thieves use someone else’s information to gain access to their financial accounts or open new credit accounts. This can include bank accounts, credit cards, loans or mortgages, and financial investment accounts. This type of identity theft is also called account takeover and new account fraud.

How Does Identity Theft Happen?

Identity theft happens in various ways, including when you’re at home and out in public. Thieves use technology to send spam emails or junk phone calls to trick you into giving your information away. Less sophisticated methods such as shoulder surfing in public are also used for identity theft.

The Department of Justice identifies the most common ways identity theft occurs as:

Shoulder surfing

Criminals can watch over your shoulder as you type in your credit card number or telephone number while watching nearby. If you provide your credit card number over the phone, they can listen in on your conversation.

Stolen credit card applications and mail

If you throw away credit card applications that are not torn up, someone may try to use them without your knowledge. If your mail is delivered to a place where other people can easily get it, they may steal it and send it somewhere else.

Spam emails

Spam emails often have enticing offers inside of them. The recipients reply with their personal information, such as their credit card or bank account information. They may find the sender never follows up on the offer but instead steals their information.

Is Identity Theft a Federal Crime?

Aggravated identity theft is a federal crime where defendants are charged and tried through the federal court system. A federal prosecutor brings these charges and must prove the defendant committed a crime by stealing identifying information.

Over 1,000 defendants were convicted of aggravated identity theft case in FY 2017. The majority of defendants were Black (49.8%), followed by Hispanics at 26.2% and Whites at 19.9%, with an average age of 36. Along with their aggravated identity theft convictions, these defendants were also charged and convicted of fraud, theft, destruction of property, and immigration violations.

How Common is Identity Theft?

Identity theft is increasingly common. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received over 4.8 million identity theft and fraud reports in 2020, up from 3.3 million in 2019. Residents in California are often victims of identity theft.

Over 147,000 identity theft complaints were filed in California in 2020. These numbers rank the state as 15th highest in the country for identity theft cases. Along with Georgia and Florida, California accounted for one-third of all U.S. identity theft reports in 2019. Identity theft crimes continue to grow, and lawmakers are taking notice and passing legislation aimed at helping victims.

California’s Identity Theft Resolution Act

This law, enacted in 2017, protects the rights of identity theft victims. The goal of this law is to help speed up the process of reclaiming your identity after it’s stolen. Victims of identity theft must work with debt collectors and creditors to prove they were not responsible for the debt created by thieves. This bill speeds up the review process so victims can clear their names and get back to their lives in a more timely manner.

What to Do if Charged With Identity Theft Case?

You will be arrested and formally arraigned in court if you’re charged with identity theft. Each identity theft violation is a separate charge. The charges you will face depend on the type of identity theft crime you committed and the severity of your crime.

Do you need a lawyer if you’ve been charged with identity theft case? Yes, you should always hire a lawyer if you’ve been charged with a crime. Identity theft is a serious crime that could result in jail time. A strong legal defense is needed to push back against the prosecutor’s claims and create reasonable doubt.

Legal defense against an identity theft case:

Prosecutors in identity theft cases must prove the defendant willfully and knowingly took, used, or possessed another’s identifying information. It’s your defense attorney’s job to show evidence that contradicts the prosecutor’s argument through the legal defense.

In cases where authorization is granted to them before being revoked, defendants have a good chance of proving they did not commit identity theft willfully. People who knowingly engage in identity theft will have a more challenging time proving their innocence.

Common legal defense strategies in identity theft cases include:

  • Showing you committed no unlawful purpose
  • Showing you didn’t intend to defraud any person or institution
  • Showing you did not willfully act in identity theft

Sentencing for Identity Theft Fraud

Identity theft is a wobbler offense in California. This means you may be charged and sentenced with a misdemeanor or a felony crime at the prosecutor’s discretion. It’s also based on the severity of your case. Repeat identity theft offenders may be more likely to face harsher charges and sentences.

Common Convictions of Identity theft Cases

Each conviction of misdemeanor identity theft brings sentences including fines and up to one year in jail. Felony convictions of identity theft can result in jail time of up to three years for the first offense, with one-year jail terms served consecutively for each additional violation.

Aggravated identity theft, a federal crime, has a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in a federal prison per violation. If you’re convicted of multiple violations, you will serve your jail consecutively, not concurrently. The more violations you’re convicted of, the longer your minimum prison sentence will be.

Violating California’s identity theft laws is a serious offense resulting in a jail sentence and a permanent criminal record. If you’ve been charged with identity theft, it’s important to seek legal help immediately. Consider hiring the Law Offices of Mariya Melkonyan for your identity theft case.

Criminal defense attorney Mariya Melkonyan can help you understand your legal rights. Her background as Deputy District Attorney gives her important insight into criminal court proceedings and helps her craft a strong and effective identity theft defense argument for your case. Contact the Law Offices of Mariya Melkonyan for a free consultation.

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